Did you miss the Professionalism Series Panel last week on “Surviving as a New Associate—Working for Partners, Billing your Time, and Using Support Staff?” Below is some of the insight offered by the fantastic panelists from the Young Alumni Association Board—Jonathan Pappasideris (Ray Quinney & Nebeker), Erin Stone (Prince Yeates & Geldzahler), Christine Poleshuk (Snell & Wilmer), and Tsutomu Johnson (Snow Christensen & Martineau).
At firms, you will often use a legal assistant whom you will share with other attorneys. He or she will help you with phones/messages, typing up and formatting memoranda or letters you dictate, copies, filing things with the court. You might also get to use a paralegal, although in some firms paralegals are staffed to specific large cases, and not assigned to attorneys. Paralegals generally bill their time to clients, and usually do more document review/evaluation, research or strategy oriented work, and direct attorney communication than assistants. Summer associates and new attorneys should be professional and friendly with their assistants and paralegals. Treat them very well—they can be your greatest asset in a firm when you don’t know the ropes, the personalities, or how to file anything properly. Reward them and thank them for their work.
All of our panelists billed their time to clients—meaning that they had to track during the day the work they did for clients on specific cases so that work could be part of an invoice sent to the client. This work is billed in 6-minute increments – so, .1 of an hour for 6 minutes, .3 for 18 minutes, etc. The panelists’ unanimous advice was to “Make peace with the notion that you have to bill your time.” Just accept it and become skilled at it, rather than grumble too much. It won’t do too much good to complain—you are judged in part by the hours you bill. Find ways that work for you to track all your time during the day so you are not losing chunks of time and wondering why, at the end of a 9 hour day, you only account for 4.3 billable hours. Our panelists used techniques (and sometimes a combination of them) ranging from iphone notes, a paper notepad kept handy at all time, reviewing “sent” emails and phone logs to remember what was done, and computer programs specifically designed to keep time. Panelists strongly encouraged new associates to not “cut” their own time before submitting their time—let the partner in charge of the case determine whether you spent too long on something. You will rarely get yelled at for taking too much time, but you will hear about it if your hours are too low. Find out how your firm likes bills to look before you dive into it. If possible, review of few of the bills that are sent out so you have a feel for the level of detail and tone of the language.